I don’t read comic books. I have never read them. I don’t mean to say that I have never in my life looked at one or never in my life seen one. Of course I have, but as a normal thing, I just never got into them. I usually say to people, “I read books.” Which, although true, makes me sound quite judgmental and superior. Superhero movies are in vogue right now, Superman, Spiderman, Batman, Iron Man, Thor, etc. I have seen some of these and even enjoyed a couple of them, but I don’t think I really get it. What is the attraction to these “people”? Why do we turn to superheros to rescue us?
What is it inside us that makes us long for superheros? Now, some of you will read this and say to yourself, “well I don’t like superheros either.” I think we all do to a certain extent. We turn Tiger Woods into a superhero – Golfman, and are devastated when he turns out to be a person , a flawed imperfect, broken person. Or Angelina Jolie, who made a brave choice perhaps, but also (and often conveniently forgotten) broke up someone’s marriage. We take people and make a superhero of them. We don’t want to know the unwashed, unheroic truth of these people. We want Barack Obama to really bring hope and change, we want him to be more than just a man. The backlash for not living up to people’s expectation is harsh. We don’t just adjust our perceptions, we get frustrated and angry and decry them for being what we didn’t want them to be…human.
I love my wife, not because I don’t see her (very few) flaws, not because I think her good qualities outweigh her bad qualities (though they do), I love her because her flaws and her strengths combine to make her the person I know. The whole person. Good and bad. Perfect and imperfect. Smiling and angry.
Yet, I don’t apply this to other people, and certainly not to myself. Every time someone turns out to be flawed in a way I didn’t expect, I am disappointed. I should be disappointed with myself, but I am disappointed by that person. Batman turns out to be Bruce Wayne with a car and a cape. Superman turns out to be Clark Kent without glasses…and a cape.
We should revel in their humanness, we should be excited and relieved when a person who was one dimensional turns out to be multi-faceted. That should be a good thing. There are no superheros. There are real people trying to be better than they were. There are real people who rise to occasions and do more than expected, who help others when everyone else is just watching. They are not superheros, but they are flawed, failed, imperfect people who somehow find a place inside themselves to do more than wait for someone else to do something.
I remember 30 years ago a plane went down in the Potomac river. 6 people survived the crash, one of those, a man named Arland D Williams Jr. was among them. As a helicopter hovered overhead Mr. Williams helped the other survivors by passing them the rescue ropes so they could be pulled to safety. When the helicopter returned to him after transporting others to the shore, the wing had submerged and Williams was gone.
I would like to think that I would act similarly, but I truly do not know, nothing in my life suggests I would have the courage necessary to be that selfless. Mr Williams was not a superhero with incredible powers or even a cape, he was one of us. A flawed person, who somehow acted in a way that was extraordinary. I don’t imagine he was a perfect person, but what he did astounds me. He acted in a way that I wish to live up to. I doubt anyone would recognize me if I dressed as Arland D Williams Jr at a Comicon though.
The unwashed truth is that all of us have our flaws and our strengths. The stories that interest me the most are those that don’t pretend we are other than that. I like to know that ordinary people sometimes do incredible things, not incredible people sometimes do incredible things. I don’t care about that. That is not a real thing. Life is not about that.
Life is about trying, despite our flaws, to be better today than we were yesterday, to treat others better. George Matthew Adams once said “I say to myself that I shall try to make my life like an open fireplace, so that people may be warmed and cheered by it and so go out themselves to warm and cheer.”
Be a fireplace not a superhero, in the end it is more meaningful and will impact more people, though you may never know it.